Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Don't Say Maybe

So I've come to that stage with my new project: Do I or don't I?

Outline, that is.

I never want to outline. I'm the kind who likes to sit in front of the computer, a few notes here or there beside me, and just let it flow. I like the culmination of words and story to build with few set confines. Plus, starting with an outline is like starting with a piddly appetizer, when you're hungry for the whole meal!

Chapter 1 of my new WIP came out great. (That's not to say there won't be lots of tweakage, because, for now, I'm writing without editing as I go. But that's another post for another day...) And I know the general meanderings, the guts, of the whole book. But what about the minor details? What about the sub-plots? How will the rest come out?

My first novel (Bliss Lake, for any new readers, is currently under publisher consideration) unfolded page by page in front of me without an outline. I couldn't believe how well everything tied in, how much it all flowed, without having strategically planned it in advance. (It was a huge blessing for me; a reassurance I was on the right path with my writing. Also another day's post...) But could it happen again? Do I test it, supposing I could fail? Part of me feels I should at least jot down some kind of informal outline. I mean really, there's no one way to outline a project.

I think it's just such a question in my mind right now because the task of jumping into a new full-length novel - from scratch! - is daunting. Am I right? And anything serving to point me in the right direction can't be bad. Right?

So do I or don't I?*

Do you or don't you?

*I guarantee many of you are thinking Janna, it's up to you, girlie, because every writer is different and has to choose their own way. I know this. But I figure myself out better when I share my thoughts and absorb everyone's feedback. Thank you, thank you.

25 comments:

Janet said...

I'm still finding myself in this department. I need at least a general outline, because then I'm not at the mercy of inspiration, and I'm less likely to have plot inconsistencies to untangle later. I'm dealing with a lulu of a problem in WIP1 right now, brought about by blithely writing onward without resolving certain issues first. I'll never do that again. At the very least, I have to really think through each chapter before writing, not necessarily everything that's going to happen, but the state of mind and agenda of everybody in the chapter. Hope this helps a bit.

Terri Tiffany said...

I don't know--I'm where you are with that one. I hate outlines but I know that I should probably have a better idea where my book is going than I did too with the first one. I want deeper plots and subplots so outlining might create that but as I said above--I hate to outline!!
I'll be interested to see what works for you:)

WendyCinNYC said...

I like to write the first 20-30 pages free-flow, then stop and outline after that. It makes the plot feel more controlled. To me.

Joanne said...

I agree with Janet about not being at the mercy of inspiration. It's nice to have something concrete as a guide, at the very least. And you get a visual, showing gaps or inconsistencies, while being able to build and develop layers that really serve as a springboard for inspiration. I vote for some sort of outline.

Allen said...

My first was a short story collections around a theme. With my first novel, winged it and found that what I had was a very elaborate outline of a good novel Camouflaged by all the unusual fluffy stuff I stuck in to fill the pages.

Deciding this works for me, I just write it out and consider it a fat outline. Cut and paste is my new best friend.

Ang said...

Okay...this is going to sound weird...but I love outlines. Not formal outlines but just "something" to go by. Now, I am not saying I don't stray from the outline...of course I do...the story will take you where it wants to go...but I don't travel without a map...heehee.

It really is a personal preference. But for me, my mind wanders way to much not to have some things already written down.

Kelly said...

Hummm. My advise? Have a brownie.

Jen said...

You know, Janna, I think (at least for me, probably true for some others, too) that outline/no outline has to be decided on a project by project basis.

My NaNo worked out okay not being outlined, but it was a wreck, so I have to outline after all. But getting it all out on the page helped me decide what I was actually trying to say, so it was useful to not have an outline to worry about.

On the other hand, having an outline for more complicated projects can be a really good thing. It can help you keep all your subplots straight, and the storyline cohesive. So, yeah. Project by project is the way I've decided to go. :)

Melanie Avila said...

The way Wendy describes it is more or less what I do. I jot down a few notes so I don't forget where I want it to go, then take a closer look as I get further in. My "outline" is more like a paragraph or two describing what will happen. It doesn't have much detail other than main points to cover.

(and I know I said I wasn't stopping by until later, but I caved.)

thedomesticfringe said...

I'm going to preface this by saying, "Don't listen to a word I say." I think you should just write. It's obviously overflowing from a heart of abundance, so just get it onto paper. You can can always work out the kinks later...can't you? I don't anything about writing, but if it worked for you with the novel being published...hey, stick with what works.

Janna Qualman said...

Janet - Oh, no. I hate to hear that. I hope it works out okay for you.

Terri - So let's boycott outlines! ;)

Wendy - That actually makes a lot of sense. I'm not that far in yet, but I can see the benefit of letting the story start on its on, and then giving it a supportive boost part-way in. I like it!

Joanne - That's true, too, what you and Janet have said. By leaving it completely open to inspiration, I may hurt myself in the long run by putting added pressure on myself. Hmm...

Allen - Interesting! I love hearing what works for others. And thanks for coming by! :)

Ang - So my first FIRM vote for an outline! :D

Kelly - Have I mentioned I like the way you think? ;)

Jen - I actually thought about you and your NaNo while I wrote this post, and whether you'd outlined. But I like your project-by-project sort of rule. Then you're not set to one way every time.

Melanie - I knew you couldn't stay away. LOL

Fringegirl - You are absolutely right in that any kinks would certainly be worked out later. And the reason no outline worked so well with my other novel (sheesh! I have to go look at my wording, 'cuz I don't know for sure yet that it'll be published; it's being considered at this point), was that I did anal-retentive editing as I went. That helped fuse it all together, making sure everything fit. Maybe THAT'S the kind of "outlining" writer I am?

Jenna said...

I'm like Wendy and Melanie...once I hit between 12k and 15k I have to have an outline, a map, a story blueprint, whatever you want to call it, to get me where I want to go.

But, I don't write chronologically so this is probably more essential to my process than for someone who writes linear. I write what comes to me when it comes to me which lends itself to a very messy first draft so along the way I have to keep some king of running "outline". My running outline is full of plot points I want to hit or loose ends I want to tie up that I intentionally left open.

Maybe it's just the term "outline" that puts a bad taste in our mouths...you know brings us back to those high school and college days when outlining the paper before you wrote the paper was essential to your grade.

Writer's Digest's new issue (Feb. 09) has an article titled "Your Novel Blueprint"...maybe look at is more as a blueprint...you can get on board with something like that I bet, you know with all the remodeling you have going on :). If you don't get the magazine check out this on their site...

http://www.writersdigest.com/article/first-draft-finish-novel

Let us know what you decide :).

Janna Qualman said...

Jenna, you're genius! I hadn't thought of it before, but I think it totally IS the term outline that turns me off. Now blueprint, I can get onboard with that. ;) Thank you!

Janna Qualman said...

Oh, and thanks for that link! I'll def check it out.

spyscribbler said...

LOL, you sound like me! I outline when I'm feeling nervous about being able to write a project. And then I struggle with it, trying to grind it out, until I finally throw it away and just write.

I repeat this ridiculousness over and over. You'd think I never learn.

But, despite the fact I throw away my outline, I do tend to be good at predicting where the story will go. So I think it's possible the whole ridiculous shtick could be my process.

(Thinking about how I write makes me feel a little nutso, LOL.)

rightonmom said...

I generally think an outline could be quite useful, but certainly not the only means to the end, meaning, stay flexible and refer to it as you feel the urge to do so. As you know, inspiration could strike at any moment and you wouldn't want to miss that by staying too true to your outline. Just saying.
Good luck!

Stina Rose said...

I like to work with a loose out line. One that lets me know where I am headed, but gives room for inspiration to take me on a little side trip from time to time. Of course, that is only with the first draft, after that I write up a very detailed outline for my revisions.

Rachel Burton said...

I have to have a at least a rough outline, because I Flounder without a clear sense of where I'm going, which makes me stop writing for weeks at a time. So yes, I'm an outliner. I'm also jealous of your types who just sit and write coherent, well-plotted and well-paced novels without an outline - I wish!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Janna, I've done it both ways, but I think having a good, basic outline helps you get over the rough patches sometimes, and def helps you keep the secondary plot threads strong. I think the coolest way to write a big work would be to let it grow organtically enough so that you don't choke the life out of it, but to have a strong map of where its headed so you don't derail. Hope that made sense! Check this book out. It really did work for me and was sooo user friendly: http://www.amazon.com/First-Draft-Days-Karen-Wiesner/dp/1582972966/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228346869&sr=1-1

Janna Qualman said...

Spy - Don't you think, though, those sorts of idiosyncrasies help a writer? :) I hope!

rightonmom - So true! And this is why I see both sides of the dilemma. *sigh*

Stina - Wow! You must be one thorough chick! :)

Rachel - Well, if I don't repeat my earlier success, you'll have nothing over which to be jealous! ;)

Angie - Thanks for the link! (You're just so full of useful info this week.) I'll check it out.

Rick said...

The only outlines I work with are "slap-dash" basic outlines. If I focus too much on detailed outlines, I lose a lot of my feel for the story.

Janna Qualman said...

Rick - I think that's how I'd tend to do them, too, so as not to put too much effort into the outline, and take away from the project itself. Thanks for stopping by! :)

colbymarshall said...

I usually outline as I go, so I'm always a couple of chapters ahead of myself. That way, nothing is set in stone so it can be organic to an extent, but that way I also have a plan of where I'm going and a shape I'm looking for, which is helpful to me.

Janna Qualman said...

Colby - That's what I'm leaning toward doing now, a kind of continual outline. It seems perfect for me!

aaroncrocco said...

Janna, I'd say if you're this aprehensive, just put together a basic outline of a beginning, middle and end. Just write a few sentences so you know where you want to go and have happen.

Personally, I hate outlining but it's helped me immenseley with Spirit Hackers.